Homeless Court, one of the specialty courts mentioned in Leon Neyfakh’s “The rise of custom justice” (Ideas, March 23), is held monthly at Pine Street Inn. Presided over by Judge Kathleen Coffey, first justice at the West Roxbury division of Boston Municipal Court, the Homeless Court is set up with the formality of any courtroom.
The judge hears from the Committee for Public Counsel Services, defendants, advocates, and the Suffolk district attorney’s office. All defendants must have demonstrated a commitment to making strides in their lives, such as seeking treatment for addiction, going back to school, or participating in a job-training program.
The offenses brought before the judge often include old warrants for minor offenses that have prevented men and women from getting jobs or finding a permanent place to live. Just recently, a 79-year-old homeless man stood in front of the judge for a warrant pertaining to public urination; as it turns out, he had a medical condition that has since been addressed. Now that his warrant has been cleared, he will soon move into housing.
Coffey is a wonderful combination of thoughtful, compassionate, fair, and firm. No one is given a free pass; rather, they are just given a chance to rebuild their lives.